The present Hindu society is disposed to look askance at the movement of pure spiritual service, not from any conviction of its deviation from the ideal of the Scriptures but, through fear of its unsettling effect on longstanding social institution. Marriage is probably regarded by Hindus as the most important of all their social institutions and the code of dining-regulations is considered as of equal importance. These regulations are based on the division of the Hindu society into innumerable hereditary groups known as jatis (castes). Intermarriage and interdining among different castes are in many cases forbidden in practice and the provision is religiously observed. A modern Hindu may be scientifically defined as a person who scrupulously observes the marriage and dining-regulations prevalent in the caste group to which he belongs by his birth. It is, therefore, natural for a Hindu to feel that his religion is in danger whenever there is a proposal for changing or modifying these social practices.
As a matter of fact no Hindu objects to the worship of Vishnu Whose Name is found at the head of the deities of the Hindu pantheon. Nay it is the practice of all Hindus to worship Vishnu on the occasion of worship of the other gods also. The worship of Vishnu is also recognized as the only worship that is obligatory on all Hindus who want to worship at all in the really orthodox style. So far every Hindu is fully prepared to concede the pre-eminence of Vishnu among all the gods. What they insist on is that the mode of the worship of Vishnu must be such as to be in conformity with that laid down in the Scriptures and must not at the same time in any way go against the social privileges of the Brahmanas, nor be supposed to entitle a person to transgress against the rules of intermarriage and interdining prevalent in the Hindu society at the present moment. The utmost that is conceded by way of rational explanations of the insistence on these social reservations is that the rules of marriage and dining are themselves enjoined by the Scriptures and hallowed by immemorial and universal practice.
The social conservatism of the Hindus, however, is universally admitted by themselves to rest ultimately on the sanction of the Scriptures. The Hindu is, therefore, always prepared to promote discussions for explaining the Scriptural basis of every social practice. It is not easy to say whether he is also equally prepared to assent to any modification of any existing social practice if it be found, as the result of such discussion, to be opposed to the plain meaning of the Scriptures. The chance is that he will prefer to stick to the existing practice till at least its modification meets with the general approval of all members of the particular caste-group to which he himself belongs by birth. If he gives up a practice which is followed by the other members of the caste-group on the ground of individual personal conviction his conduct is not likely to be tolerated by the group which may even force him, in case of flagrant breach of any important practice, to give up his particular method by the threat of organized social boycott which is often practicable to carry out in a measure that is sufficient to bring the delinquent to his senses.
The attitude towards these social questions taken up by Shree Chaitanya and the Acharyas who have followed His teachings is that neither marriage nor dining is a spiritual affair and, therefore, the regulation of marriage and dining need be no concern of the devotee. Shree Chaitanya says that the Scriptures tell us of the service of transcendental Godhead by the pure soul on the plane of the Absolute and also of the method by which it is practicable for all souls to attain to the spiritual service of the Supreme Lord by being completely freed from the aptitudes of the mundane plane. The activities of a person who has realized the proper function of his soul, are necessarily altogether different from those of conditioned souls in the fetters of ignorance though they are also bound to appear to the mundane observer as practicably identical with those of any other person.
The question is not really one of social discipline against lawlessness as the Smartas who insist upon the letter of the social code would have us wrongly understand. What is the purpose of the social code itself? Is it intended to keep men in the leading strings for all time? Is there to be no one who should be regarded as capable of walking on his own legs? Or should there be a clear formulation of the purpose and method of the code? The normal social condition should be one of individual freedom for the sensible members and an arrangement for enabling all persons to learn to stand on their own legs in the quickest possible way and on principle. Does the Smarta point of view satisfy these elementary conditions of rational life?
All that the society may strive to usefully provide for the discipline of its members is a compulsory education in the practice and theory of rational living of a really effective and decisive kind for all children up to a certain age. For adults all training can only be on the fully voluntary basis. In the case of spiritual training there must be similar seminaries of both types. The seminary for the spiritual education of adults must follow closely the regulations of the seminary for the ordinary rational education of infants and children with the difference that the students in the former case, must at the time of their admission, promise to go by those rules by their own convinced decision and for only so long as they freely want to do so. There should also be the corresponding right on the part of the authorities to notify an adult student to leave the institution the moment they think him an undesirable person for the purpose they have in view.
The marriage and dining-regulations should come under the control of the authorities of such an institution, as every other subject. The spiritual seminary is intended for the regulation of the whole of life and not merely of any specific part of it. It is, of course, optional for a person to submit to the regulations or withdraw from the institution, according to his unfettered choice and at any moment, without the least liability on his part, the same freedom of asking him to leave at any moment being reserved for the authorities of the seminary.
This is the arrangement that is also found to be favored, nay enjoined, by the Scriptures which the Hindu society professes to follow literally under the guidance of the Smarta pandits. If these pandits now come forward with any interpretation that is really opposed to the Scriptures themselves by their own admission, should not the society empower them to change both current practice and theory to make them agree with the injunctions of the Scriptures as they really are?
The Scriptures tell us not to accept any interpretation of the Scriptures offered by even the so-called guru himself till it fully satisfies the requirements of one’s own rational conviction, the implication being that no irrational conduct is capable of being recommended by the Scriptures. Should this most wholesome principle be given up on the demand even of a person calling himself the guru? No one should be recognized as guru who cannot really satisfy both the rational demand of our individual selves as well as the recommendations of the Scriptures. The power of final decision is always reserved to the individual by the Scriptures themselves.
If the society itself wants to compel any individual to follow any course against its individual choice such a procedure would be opposed to the recommendations of the Scriptures which allow perfect freedom to the individual in this matter. This observation does not apply to the secular arrangements. In secular matters it is necessary to have regulations that should be binding on a person even against his conviction.
Marriage is regarded by the Vaishnavas on the authority of the Scriptures as a secular arrangement which may be spiritually regulated but which need not be recommended as necessary for spiritual living. Dining is not also considered a spiritual function any more than marriage. Dining is also capable of being spiritually regulated but always at the option of the individual who seeks to be so regulated.
The hereditary caste is also not considered by the Scriptures as being identical with the religio-secular institution of varna, which is under spiritual regulation. Unless this important point is properly realized the real recommendations of the Scriptures in regard to social institutions cannot be rightly understood. The un-Scriptural marriage and dining regulations go pat with the wrong interpretations of the Scriptures offered by the upholders of he current degenerate practices. This wrong system has taken deep root and has been sedulously built up through the Ages by the patient labours of those who set a store by worldly living which is alike incompatible with the recommendations of the Scriptures and the real requirements of our own souls conceivable by the rational instinct.
Shree Chaitanya should not be regarded as a mere revivalist of any historical institution. He is the staunch upholder of the Scriptures against the misinterpretations of all schools who seek worldly amelioration in any form by scriptural authority. Shree Chaitanya does not want to revive any old abuse for serving any such narrow purpose. That function belongs to the sphere of activity of the empiric scientists. The pragmatist is fond of making experiments for securing passing results by passing methods. Shree Chaitanya tells us that the Scriptures reveal to us the method of reaching the plane of the Absolute and that by following the method of the Scriptures no want can remain unsatisfied; while by following the empiric method no want can be removed in the real sense. Those who choose to remain satisfied with the temporary and apparent relief afforded by the empiric method cannot, therefore, need not, be compelled to follow the Scriptural method. But neither should the empiricists i.e. the Smartas and the rest prevent any person from seeking permanent and real relief promised by the Scriptures, which is neither opposed to, nor in accordance with, the method of the empiricists. There is thus no real ground for quarrel between the secular society and those who propose the establishment of the daiva-varnashrama arrangement.
Source: The Harmonist – Shree Sajjana toshani Vol. XXIX, August 1931, Chaitanya-Era 445, No. 2
To order “The Harmonist As It Is” visit http://touchstonemedia.us8.list-manage1.com/track/click?u=2bbd4c21e8af7b1012ea0ee73&id=79de405778&e=057bc42d0d
For a special 25% discount, enter the code: WVA25